Canberra is known as the “Bush Capital”. Whilst not originally the reason for the name, the moniker has become associated with the significant amount of bushland throughout the city. Many of the best bits comprise the Canberra Nature Park – a collection of nature reserves through which there is a varied set of walking trails, equestrian trails and management tracks.
It is these equestrian trails and management tracks that provide a great opportunity for gravel cycling – often for a significant distance without having to cross a road. The very best thing is that some of the reserves are either connected or very close, allowing the possibility of hours of off-road cycling without having to leave the city. One of the best follows the ridges of southern Canberra surrounding the suburbs of the Woden Valley and Weston Creek.
Deakin & Red Hill
The ride starts from just off Kent Street in Deakin, heading up into the Red Hill Nature Reserve. After a short steep climb the route runs behind the suburb, and parts of the trail show the red dirt synonymous with its location. A highly worthwhile addition to this ride is the ascent of Red Hill which provides fantastic views over the city. You can do this on the tarmac road (Gowrie Drive), or take an off-road route (Deakin Reservoir Track is a good option). You can return via the tarmac, or alternatively use the trail from the lookout restaurant to descend to the base. If you choose the trail please note that it is quite steep initially, but the descent from the “six ways” saddle is more gentle.
Continuing after Gowrie Drive, the route runs parallel to Mugga Way, which in real estate circles is often referred to as the “golden mile”. Some of Canberra’s most expensive real estate backs onto the reserve, including ambassadorial residences (Argentina, India, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Turkey), a preserved heritage house and even a Carmelite convent.
Davidson Hill & Mugga Mugga
Continuing parallel to Mugga Way the route climbs up approaching Davidson Hill, which provides great views back towards the city if you pause to take in the view. At the top, the route requires crossing Hindmarsh Drive – a dual-lane road that can safely be crossed with caution even at peak traffic periods. The gravel quickly recommences at an easy to find entrance to Mount Mugga Mugga nature reserve.
The trails through Mount Mugga Mugga are the most technical of the route, including a short steep climb with loose rocks approaching the old quarry, a short single-track descent, and a rocky ascent to Isaacs Ridge. None of this is particularly challenging unless it has been raining a lot recently (it can get muddy at the bottom), but it is quite different to most of the rest of the route. This part is, however, one that feels most “away from the city” and where on warmer days kangaroos can often be seen lounging in the shade.
Isaacs Ridge is one of my favourite in-Canberra gravel rides as it offers 3km of rapid and mostly smooth gravel trail, allowing some attention to be devoted to the scenic views towards Mount Taylor and the Brindabella ranges, as well as the sweet-smelling pine forest. The trail benefits from judicious use of concrete in areas of water flow and on steep descents. Isaacs also has some single-track mountain bike trails, although these descents are only for the experienced.
Farrer Ridge & Mount Taylor
After Isaacs Ridge, the mapped route utilises the shared path to climb up under Yamba Drive and on to Farrer Ridge. Rockier than Isaacs, the trail can sometimes have some pools of water to navigate after longer periods of rain. The reward on this route is a rapid descent towards Athllon Drive and the crossing to Mount Taylor, as well as views across Tuggeranong.
After crossing to Mount Taylor, there is a steady climb after which the trail continues in a similar fashion to Red Hill and Isaacs – running behind the suburb of Pearce. From here, it is possible to look across the Woden Valley towards parts of the ride already completed. After passing to the right of a water reservoir, the trail connects with a sealed road (Waldock Street). Instead of heading right and down on Waldock Street in accordance with the Komoot, it is possible to head left and connect with a summit trail ascending Mount Taylor. Similar to Red Hill this climb is a worthwhile diversion for the view – here it offers panoramic scenes including across the Tuggeranong Valley towards Namadgi National Park, which during winter can include snow-dusted peaks.
Descending Waldock Street, the route connects with a shared path towards the suburb of Kambah. From this shared path the route exits to follow a good quality trail behind the suburb of Fisher to connect with Cooleman Ridge.
Cooleman Ridge to Stromlo
Cooleman Ridge offers far more than the trail followed on the suggested Komoot. An excellent modification to this route is to follow the trail behind Mount Arawang, connecting with the equestrian trail that runs parallel to farmland to Cooleman Hill. If you have the time, exploring the area is rewarding – offering tremendous views and another surprising escape from any sense you are just beside a city. Parts of the suburbs of Chapman and Duffy were badly affected by the 2003 Canberra bushfires, and it is easy to appreciate how the bush connection through to Mount Stromlo made it possible for the fire to enter the city in this area.
Riding from Cooleman Ridge to Stromlo follows the Centenary Trail, with clear signs helping as the route heads towards its end at Stromlo Forest Park. Descending from the ridge, a gravel path runs parallel to the road. More suited to a MTB, an alternative to the track is to ride Eucumbene Drive – a wide road commonly used by road cyclists heading towards or heading home from the Uriarra Cotter loop. Here the planned route ends, allowing a direct path back to the city via Cotter Road or some of the fantastic trails of Stromlo Forest Park. You can also continue the gravel ride through to the Arboretum as described in Stromlo to Arbo.
Details of this ride
- This is a bit of a “goldilocks” gravel ride, in the sense that it is not too gravel, not too MTB – it is just right. Depending on your style and bike, you will enjoy some bits much more on a gravel bike, and others much more on a hardtail MTB. When muddy, MTB is a clear better choice but in the dry it is a toss up. I personally prefer my MTB on this one to allow for fast and fun descents.
- Walkers frequent many of these trails, but they are almost universally considerate of sharing the space with cyclists.